November 09, 2009

Recipe: Fondant for Winter Feeding

This is a good workable amount for a 3-quart pot:
  4 lbs. granulated sugar (white)
  1 lb. water
  1 tsp. lemon juice or Apple Cider Vinegar (optional but the acid assists in keeping the sugar inverted)

Hopefully your hives aren't "light" and don't need to be fed, but if you had to feed heavy syrup in the Fall, then Winter feeding might be necessary as well. Syrup has moisture than can be a death sentence for the bees in Winter, so candy or fondant is a much wiser choice. A no-cook candy board is far easier to make but if you're inclined you might want to make fondant, which some say is easier for the bees to digest.

Certainly, you can buy fondant at Cake Crafts but it's got additives in it that can give bees dysentery. It's better to make your own. Making fondant involves inverting sugar, breaking the disaccharide sucrose into the monosaccharides fructose and glucose, and then controlling the molecular alignment of those simple sugars. Inverted sugar is supposedly more easily digested by the bees, and in the Winter you want to keep things easy for them. There are lots of recipes on the Internet for winter bee feed. Really old ones call for cream of tartar but I'd avoid that additive. Other than than, forget about the ingredients and the measurements; it's the method that matters most when making fondant. And don't  worry about fancy equipment either; all you need is a little patience and a watchful eye.

Step-by-Step: Making Fondant
1) use a stainless steel pot that is heavy sided — thick walls provide better heat distribution and help prevent scorching on the sides.

2) bring the water to a simmer and pour in the sugar. Stir until all the sugar is dissolved. Stick your fingers in and rub them together. If you feel grittiness, keep on stirring. If it's slick, it's time to raise the heat – STOP STIRRING – and bring to a gentle boil. (The boiling point is where uncontrolled crystallization is most likely to happen. Unlike water which has a fixed boiling point, a sugar syrup's boiling point keeps moving, hotter and hotter, as the water is cooked off — DO NOT STIR from here on out.)

3) let boil gently uncovered; the bubbles will move quite vigorously at this stage. Have a small wet paint brush handy. You will need to wash down any crystals you see forming on the sides of the pot but DO NOT STIR. Make sure the brush can handle the heat; natural bristle won't melt. Boil until the bubbles start to get larger, more uniform in size and move more slowly. When it looks like bubbles-on-top-of-bubbles, on-top-of-bubbles, you're there! Dribble a bit of the syrup into a container of ice cold water, reach down and grab it. It should form a soft malleable ball. If the syrup is too soft to form a soft ball, cook a little more. If it forms a hard ball, skip the next step and follow the Hard Ball notes below, after the break. Place the pot in a sink of ice-cold water to stop the cooking process. Do not stir until the syrup has cooled quite a bit. (Slow, controlled cooling results in a smooth fondant. Stirring it to hasten the cooling results in granular, wants-to-break-apart-in-chunks fondant.)

4) classically the syrup, when cool enough to handle by hand but still hot (140°–120°F), is manipulated on a marble slab. You can use a shallow tray and, when you see a skin start to form, use a spatula to fold the syrup over onto itself. It turns white as the molecules are realigned. You may end up kneading with your hands. Knead until it is smooth. Nowadays, this can be accomplished with a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a food processor. Pour the cooled syrup into the mixer bowl and beat 'til it turns white and smooth. Scoop into molds or shape as desired.

Using Fondant
Soft fondant can be spackled in old brood comb or formed into patties. (Note the clever use of a ziptop baggie and a ball at Honeyrun Farm.) Place directly over the cluster or on the floor under the cluster (only works when the combs are short). According to beehivejournal, fondant can make up for a honey shortage 2:1. This recipe yields about 4 lbs. so would make up for an 8lb shortage of honey (one big or 2 small TBH or Warré combs). Enough fondant to last through February (since we won't be opening the hive again 'til then) should be placed in the hive during final Winter prep (so we're too late). The batch we just made will be nice and ripe (fondant gets smoother and softer in the freezer) if emergency feeding in February is necessary. Consider it an emergency when they are down to 3 combs of honey. The one thing I'm wondering about is if we can put something into the fondant to treat for mites; essential oil, such as wintergreen, could be kneaded into it. We've seen a few varroa on the bees' underbellies, and we want to keep them under control. (Here's a coupon off Aura Cacia EO's!)

High Altitude Note on Sugar Cookery
Most recipes are written for sea level and need to be adjusted (1°F less for every 500' in elevation above sea level). If you live at 5,000' and your recipe says to bring the syrup to 238°F, you want to bring the syrup to 228°F only. A few degrees over isn't going to ruin your fondant, but Mile High 238°F is the same as sea level 248°F, so your syrup will be at the Firm Ball stage and your finished product will be "candy." Hard candy is trickier to work with.

Syrup at Hard Ball stage is not amenable to stirring. Just pour it, FAST, into your forms. Until you've made fondant a few times (and even after) it would be wise to have some candy molds ready, in case you overheat the syrup. I need to devise a falseback with edges that could be used as a hanging candy board. What's a candy board? Check out this pictorial tutorial from another Colorado beekeeper that used 234°F as his target temp. Mile high 234°F behaves like sea level 244°F, so Nice Candy Boards!

What?! You made Rock Candy? Inside your pot? Darn it, your syrup seized. You stopped stirring when I told you to, right? How 'bout that wet pastry brush? You washed away those seed crystals, right? Oh well, you'll do those things next time. For now, to save your pot and salvage the sugar, just add a little hot water, use a tight-fitting lid, and simmer over LOW heat until you have syrup. If you have a nice old-fashioned stove, the pilot light, overnight (or longer) is perfect.

DO NOT CRANK THE HEAT to try to melt the rock sugar. It takes over 300°F to melt rock sugar, at which point everything's burnt. And, believe me, your pot will be ruined. It stinks, and your whole house will stink, too. You can only DISSOLVE rock sugar, so just be happy with the syrup.

There are lots of recipes for fondant. A fellow blogger used this recipe to create this:
Tempting, but for the bees' sake, please use a recipe that is free of HFCS or additives. They can't leave the hive in the Winter cold and the held-in additives can give them dysentery.

You may also be interested in: Winter Candy Board for the Warré hive and MICROWAVE SUGAR CANDY (small amount)


Unknown said...

Re: making a hanging candy board. I’ve done just that for a hive with an empty frame in late autumn, when I had no spare stores to share. Simply, a rectangle of #4 hardware cloth (1/4 inch spacing) was cut of a size to fit inside a deep frame, and secured there with twist ties. Frame was laid flat and a sugar cake mixture pressed into it and allowed to harden. Placed this frame in the #2 position. Largely consumed by springtime. Suppose you could use the same method with fondant; for security, I think then I’d use two rectangles of hardware cloth; place the twist-ties with enough laxity that the first piece lays flush on the surface underneath; add the fondant, then place the second piece over it and secure. Press the wires 1/4” into the fondant.

HB said...

Thanks for the hardware cloth suggestion @Unknown. Since writing this post, I've devised a follower/feeder board that employs… wait for it… hardware cloth! Where can I see your bees? Are you on Instagram? If you are, you can find me at

Post a Comment

Join the Conversation. Leave a comment.